Facebook started life as a university-only network and has since grown far beyond those original roots, with some one billion+ users globally. No surprise, then, that it’s losing ground among its original user-base. Facebook finally fessed up to some decreasing usage among teens just this week (Over the last three years the number of teenagers using Facebook has declined by 25 percent, while the number of users 55 and older has gone up more than 80 percent.).
Being social’s catch-all behemoth means there’s plenty Zuckerburg & co can’t do. Facebook’s huge size, ambition to ‘connect the world’ and user-base that spans the generations is inevitably fossilising its feature-set, as usage of the service condenses down to a well-trodden average.
This makes the social network ripe for disruption — or more specifically for creative deconstruction. In recent years less overarching services have been able to come in and attract users to more tailored and intimate products, whether it’s photo-sharing (Instagram), mobile messaging (Line, WeChat) or more targeted social networking services.
Nigerian — based technology company Netorion Web Agency has released ConnectU, this sits in the latter camp. Like Facebook 1.0 it’s focused exclusively on students (you have to belong to a Nigerian university to join). But unlike Facebook it’s planning to stick with students and build out a business based on providing services to that specific user-base. “We want to scale laterally and with depth, rather than opening up to the rest of the world,” says founder and CEO Victor Sylva.
A tagline on the ConnectU website reads ‘what happens at ConnectU, stays at ConnectU’ — a not-so-veiled dig at Facebook as a vast information repository that allows potential employers to pass judgement on job applicants based on the content of their Facebook profile. ConnectU is purposefully locking down its user-base to make students more comfortable that they are sharing stuff only with each other, not with their parents and/or future employers.
ConnectU.com.ng launched today Friday, November 11th, 2016, with a 10 Universities already setup on the platform (There are 40 Federal Universities, 42 States Universities, 61 private universities, making a total of 143 universities in Nigeria). In the next few months ConnectU plans to gain a decent bit of traction among its user-base, and hit 100,000 users.
Victor argues that students are getting tired of having to manage their activity across multiple social network services. “A research across a sample of students from over 30 universities showed us that students are fed up of having to use larger, amorphous services to carry out daily activities and needs which are specific to the student community,” he says.
“For example, a group of students need a fifth housemate for a five-bed house, but they are reliant on posting on Nairaland or on a flatsharing platform which means they could be sharing with somebody outside of their university. We can leverage the power of our student-exclusive network and match up students in similar situations.”
ConnectU can also run as official Alumni network for a lot of universities whose students are scattered all over the globe. These students can all meet online on www.connectu.com.ng share resources, organize events, provide advice to Undergrads of their university who seek their help online.
Victor said he came up with the idea for ConnectU after seeing what he thought was a gap in the market for an “all-encompassing platform exclusively for those in higher education”. After talking with students, he realised there was an appetite for a dedicated platform providing student-focused services — and ConnectU was born.
The social network is free for students to join and use. The plan is to launch a series of sub-businesses that sit on the platform and cater to students’ needs — from the likes of finding accommodation (ConnectU Living), to buying and selling books, to finding a job (ConnectU Jobs). Some of these are already live on the platform (although it’s not yet taking in any revenue, focusing first on building out its users), with many more planned: 5 will launch over the next three to 12 months, according to Victor.
Each of these sub-businesses will then have different revenue generating models. For instance, employers will pay to post jobs to the ConnectU network — with the ability to segment job adverts by university or study topic, and so on. Another sub-business will provide university societies with tools to manage their memberships — a sub-business that is more likely to have a freemium model, he says.
ConnectU also allows its users to post updates to their friend group but also to post things university-wide (say you’re looking for a flat-mate), or to post something to the entire Nigerian student community. Types of content that can be shared over the network includes the usual social networking staples of photos, videos, Blogs, Music, Events, Classifieds and links. ConnectU has also built an opinion polling tool that displays responses in an infographic form.
“We’re not really replacing Facebook,” adds Victor. “It’s great to keep in touch with your family, it’s great to keep in touch with friends elsewhere — in Nigeria and across the world. Facebook is great for that need. But if you want specific niche services, and want to communicate with the entire student market all in one place, which you can’t physically do on Facebook, then you use ConnectU. So it’s not in direct competition with Facebook… It does different things.”
The startup is also eyeing up international expansion — with the U.S and UK, two markets of interest, along with Africa more generally — but Victor also says it hasn’t made any decisions about where to go next.
ConnectU is currently live on the web, with Android and iOS apps also in the works — due to land in around two months.